On campus beat: Protest stops camel's visit to University of St. Thomas

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2014 - 7:38 PM

It’s the week before finals at the University of St. Thomas. Student leaders thought they’d come up with the perfect way to end the school year: by bringing a camel to campus.

They assumed that stressed-out students would jump at the chance to pose for photos, and generally hang out, with a large, furry humped animal.

But last week the plan was abruptly scrapped after opponents mounted a protest on Facebook, saying it was not only a waste of money, but insensitive and possibly racist as well.

The event — called “Hump Day” — was organized by the Residence Hall Association, a student social committee, “to have a little fun, bring students together,” said Aaron Macke, the group’s adviser.

Their intention, he said, was to come up with an idea for a gathering that was creative and drew interest.

“And obviously, this one did, both ways.”

The original plan was to bring the camel to the St. Paul campus May 14 and turn the quad into “a petting zoo type of atmosphere,” Macke said. The camel, he noted, is trained for events like these and owned by a local vendor.

In fact, last December St. Thomas brought a reindeer to campus (also hired locally) for the same purpose. No protests ensued.

Macke said he’s not sure who started the Facebook page, but last week it was bristling with indignant comments. Some suggested the event was disparaging to Middle Eastern cultures, an example of animal cruelty and even environmentally unfriendly. “I think they thought the camel was coming from another part of the world,” he said, “[and] it would be bad for our carbon footprint.” Others simply objected to the cost. (Macke said the fee, about $500, was coming from a social event fund.)

Within 24 hours, the organizers decided to cancel the event. “It kind of comes back to the purpose of the organization,” said Macke, who is director of residence life at St. Thomas. “If this is going to be something that’s divisive, then it’s not worth doing.”

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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